I forced my knife into the head of the undead, killing it and the rotten corpse fell to the ground. Blood poured out from the fresh bite wound it left, and my time was now limited. The ragged flesh of my arm dangled from the bone as the air stung the exposed muscle. I couldn’t stop the bleeding, so I ripped the left sleeve off my long sleeve shirt and wrapped it around the wound the best I could. I tried to keep walking to catch up with the others, but I felt dizzy every few steps and had to lean on the wall for support.
“Tucker, are you okay, are you hurt?” I heard the voice of the last person I would ever want to see me like this, my sister Kathy. She appeared in front of me, gazing at my odd posture.
I looked up, unable to hide my sorrow, and shifted my body with my back to the wall. The bloody sleeve clinging to my arm was now revealed to her.
“What’s wrong?” she asked in denial. “Surely that’s not…you simply cut yourself on some of the debris, hospitals have a bunch of dangerous objects, you’re okay.” Her eyes began to dart, searching for debris with blood on it.
“Kathy…” I muttered. “We both know what it is.”
She stood in silence, her eyes going from shocked, to sad, then hesitant understanding.
“What do we do?” she took a step closer, her eyes beginning to water.
“The only thing we can do,” I said, tears running down her face as I confirmed her greatest fear once more. She did her best not to cry too loud and accidentally alert someone nearby of the accident.
“I’m not going to, I can’t.” She silently cried. “I don’t have a gun and stabbing you…I can’t, I’m going to get the others, they can—”
“You can’t get them.” I declared as best as I could. “You can’t let them see me like this. They can’t help me.” I leaned my head back and let out a pained sigh.
I looked down at my arm, hoping that the bite would be gone, but the larger blood stain and dizziness told me otherwise. I could feel the infection spreading throughout my body, I knew I didn’t have long.
Kathy leaned against the wall with me.
“What are you still doing? We don’t know how fast it spreads; I could turn any second.” I said.
Kathy remained on the wall with me as if she didn’t hear me at all. “So, what do we do then? I won’t let myself kill you, and you won’t let me get the group.”
I let out a sigh of defeat, “I could…leave,” I said. “I could leave you and everyone else. Go as far away from here as I can so none of you have to see me like that.”
“You wouldn’t even say goodbye to the others?” Kathy turned her head towards me, more tears going down her face.
“I’m already putting you at risk with every second I don’t act; I can’t risk the others too.” My vision became blurry with my own tears.
I got too tired and sat on the disgusting ground, Kathy following my actions. We sat in silence for a while, reminiscing about life before the outbreak. The wind whistled through the shattered windows in the hallways, singing a somber song of days past. The clouds were gray and depressing, covering the sun that once fed the life on the surface.
“Do you remember when I got scared of that lizard on the sidewalk?” Kathy asked me, breaking the silence.
“You thought it was a dinosaur from Jurassic Park and that it was going to attack you.” I chuckled in response.
“Don’t laugh at me, we were six, I thought I was in danger.” She began to laugh as well; a sliver of joy occupied these halls for only a moment, only for the burning sensation of the infection spreading to return.
“Do you remember what you said to me after you put it in the grass?” she turned her head once more to face me, her face red with rivers under her eyes.
“I told you…that no matter what, I would always be there to protect you…” I mustered.
Despite my own tears and the infection throughout my body, my vision returned for a moment, and I took in my sister’s face for the last time.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I lied to you that day. I never thought there’d be a day where protecting you meant not being there.”
Kathy threw her arms around me, locking me in the tightest hug I’d ever received. I don’t know if it was because I was dying or if she was just that strong. She stayed like that for what I hoped would last an eternity and I could feel the warmth from her face on my shoulder and her tears wetting my shirt.
“Go,” I murmured. “I can turn any second now…I don’t want to harm you…”
She slowly peeled herself away, gasping for air as she tried to get her breathing under control. She turned away from me, wiping her face as she stood. Though I didn’t have any more tears, my vision became blurry once more.
“I promise that we’ll see each other again, wherever it may be.” She spoke through a pained voice and heavy throat.
“Don’t be like me and break it.” I stood up carefully, trying not to fall over as my body began to feel heavier. “Someone has to uphold a reputation of keeping promises.”
Kathy opened her mouth but closed it with nothing to say. Almost as if she was joining the songs of the wind, she dragged herself away from me as I stumbled in the opposite direction.
I made my way through and out of the hospital as best as I could without alerting the group I came here with. With every moment I could feel the burning get stronger, and eventually, my arms went numb. I stumbled out of a broken window on the first floor, trying to make my way to a nearby forest.
At this point, my entire body went numb from the overwhelming fire that was destroying me from the inside. As I made my way into the forest, I looked back at the hospital, hoping to see Kathy, another irrational hope of mine.
Despite having no feeling in my body, I forced my legs to move, keeping my balance by relying on the trees close to me. After forcing myself to walk for what I assumed would be long enough for my legs to come off, the infection brought me down to the ground. I hit the ground with a weak thud, and I was looking down at the dirt and dead leaves. I managed to roll myself over, the gray sky piercing through the splintered shield of leaves.
As I pondered the sky once more, another one of them walked over and loomed over me. I waited for it to attack me, but it never moved. It looked at my body with orange eyes and continued walking.
Michael Lee Johnson is an internationally published poet in 44 countries, has several published poetry books and anthologies, and has been nominated for 6 Pushcart Prize awards and 6 Best of the Net nominations. Over 276 YouTube poetry videos as of 12-2022.